Many of you are probably familiar with a mandala. It is a spiritual and ritual symbol primarily used in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe. It has become popular in retreats where one is invited to draw a mandala or to color in one that is already drawn.
As I was reading Pema Chodron's book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainly and Change, I was struck with her comment that "no one is excommunicated from the mandala."
It stayed with me and has become the focus of my reflection for this first month of the new year.
Many people make New Year's resolutions, so perhaps we could start the new year by contemplating a mandala in which "no one and no thing is excommunicated" — which could become the basis for a new orientation toward 2018.
I invite you to either engage your imagination in creating a mandala in your mind or find yourself a paper, colored pencils, glitter or sand and actually draw a mandala.
First, imagine a symbol of the cosmos — a simple circle works just fine. Find the center and take deep cleansing breaths inviting the divine energy to guide you in opening your heart to gather in all that you are, and the universe in which you dwell.
Start with the still point in the middle of your mandala. Begin to radiate outward who you are—your gifts, your skills, your values, your beliefs. Don't leave out your shadow, for all of who you are is embraced. Choose colors that express who you are. Breathe in gratitude for who you are now in 2018.
Moving outward choose colors that capture the people with whom you live and work. Your friends, family, colleagues — those who are physically present or who are living in another dimension of resurrected life. Remember them — sense them — see what feelings arise, what emotions are evoked in you. If you are drawing the mandala, see what lines, figures you find yourself creating.
Bring in the fauna and flora, the sentient beings that roam the earth, swim in the oceans, nest in the trees and fly in the air. See also the non-sentient beings that are part of our world.
Stop for a moment. Go back to the center. Reflect and see if you have left anything out about yourself — things that you don't like. Identify them and embrace them. Remember the people in your life: are there those with whom you have a difficult relationship? Those with whom you no longer communicate? If so, take time to open your heart so that you can bring them into the mandala.
Now move beyond the familiar in your life. Bring into the mandala those who do not look like you; do not act like you; do not live in your part of the city or town. Stretch your vision and see the millions of people who are part of the global community — those who are travelling across borders for survival; those living in refugee camps waiting to go home; those whom politicians scorn and insult. Include them in your mandala.
Now the hardest for me; see those whom you excommunicate from your mandala. Those whose beliefs and attitudes belie the love and compassion that is at the heart of the Gospel. Those who inflict violence on innocent people. Those who choose to terrorize people and ferment fear. Those who sexually abuse children. Those in positions of leadership and public office who ignore the common good and the cries of those who suffer. Those whose arrogance and ignorance are toxic to our planetary community. Find the color, the fragments of sand or glitter that can capture them and allow the mandala to embrace them.
Stop and gaze at what you've created. Get in touch with your feelings. What awareness is arising in you? What action?
In the Buddhist tradition, a key teaching is not to do harm. An important insight is that in order to achieve, you must be self-aware: you must know when you get hooked, know whether your heart or mind is open or closed. Pema writes that "what is happening on earth today is the result of the collective minds of everyone on the planet." Too many of us have become cold and cruel, triggering aggressive behavior and — on a larger scale — wars. She hopes that we work on "our minds and then, based on that, take action! And we take action with the understanding that everyone is basically good — no one is cast out."
In this season of Incarnation, the presence of Jesus in our midst reminds us that no one is cast out. Divinity shares with us our humanity. Our humanity is a mixture of good/bad, kind/cruel, just/unjust. Our life is what it is at this moment, at the beginning of 2018. It is the ground from which we awaken to see things as God sees them.
Our life is our mandala and is the basis for our 'taking a long loving look at the real.' Pema writes, "With the commitment to embrace the world just as it is, we begin to see that sanity and goodness are always present and can be uncovered right here, right now."
Let your new year resolution be to embrace the world in this way and live into 2018, believing that no one is excommunicated from your/my/our mandala.
[Nancy Sylvester is founder and director of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. She served in leadership of her own religious community, the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan, as well as in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Prior to that she was national coordinator of NETWORK, the national Catholic social justice lobby.]
To read Nancy Sylvester's entire series, click on her author name above or click here to see a list of her columns.